In Landcare, we exclude people who are different. People of colour. People who pray three times a day to Allah. People with tats. Young people. People inventing other versions of Australian than ocker or gentleman farmer.
As she says this, the Landcare coordinator knows she’s edging onto thin ice. Landcare groups assume they welcome anyone who wants to care for the land. But the Green Army team that worked for her Network for six months last year, the ones with the tats and considerably younger than the Landcare committee, had felt on the outside. And the coordinator herself has noticed in Landcare gatherings a tendency for older white men to speak first, and for women to speak later, and only when they insist on being heard.
We’re at a Landcare Forum, where volunteers and staff from across Victoria gather twice a year to learn from each other. After an afternoon looking at nearby Landcare work, and a convivial dinner, 45 of us have convened to share with each other what is getting stronger in the way we work in our communities, and to reflect on where Landcare needs to break new ground.
We talk around this issue of inclusion, move away from it, then come back. It’s a difficult subject. And as we talk, another tough question surfaces: what is Landcare’s role now? Many of the valleys have been treed up. Properties have their shelterbelts and fenced so the landscape can be better managed. Landcare has done a lot in its 30 years, but it’s become part of the furniture. How can it hold its sense of purpose?
These forums, run by Landcare’s advocacy organisation, Landcare Victoria Inc, are a time to go back to fundamentals. We want to remain effective in the social landscapes in which we operate, and we want communities and government to understand the role Landcare plays. Communities are changing, government policy is changing. Having been successful in the past is no protection against obsolescence, and our idea of who we are may need an up-grade.
As we move through the weekend, we talk a lot about how to get younger people into Landcare. This is an issue where the challenge of inclusiveness and the challenge of relevance join together, and the grey haired elders, who started Landcare as young adults, sit and ponder how to pass on the torch to a very different generation. There’s deep listening going on, and respect for differing points of view. We don’t all immediately agree that there is a problem with our inclusiveness, but we come back to it, rather than dismiss it. We know we need to rethink our role, but this is a big question from which many paths open.
Sometimes it feels like we’re going round in circles. But we are experienced enough to know that to break new ground, you do have to move around and go back over things to get the measure of a situation. And we’re mature enough to tolerate uncertainty without needing immediate answers.
By the end of the weekend, I feel that the world has tilted a bit for all of us, and that the questions that have been raised are there now, in our shared awareness. We will need to make room and give them attention. But in the company of others, we can do that. We learn and reinvent together, and revive our spirits in the process.
Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare, email@example.com